The Government was tonight accused of plunging more people below the breadline as figures showed one in 10 households borrowed to meet ordinary living expenses.
An EU-wide study revealed 5.5% of people in Ireland lived in consistent poverty last year, while almost a quarter of households fell in arrears on at least one bill.
The country also had the 13th highest at risk of poverty rate of 27 member states in 2008.
Children’s charity Barnardos said the Survey of Income and Living Conditions (SILC) showed the devastating effect of the recession on families and children - who remain most at risk.
Barnardos chief Fergus Finlay said the Government’s four-year plan was unlikely to ease life for youngsters.
“The situation for families living in or at risk of poverty is very bleak,” said Mr Finlay.
“We know many families who have had electricity cut off because they couldn’t pay the bills and who have had to rely on moneylenders who charge vast sums of interest just to get through the month.
“Cuts to minimum wage and social welfare and increases in tax are going to make the situation for many families untenable.”
The data for 2009, released by the Central Statistics Office, showed:
* The percentage of people in consistent poverty was 5.5%, up by 1.3%;
* Another 14% were at risk of poverty;
* The consistent child poverty rate soared to 8.7%, from 6.3%;
* Lone parent households were most likely to be surviving below the breadline, at 17%;
* The average gross income for households dropped by 7%;
* 24% were in arrears on one or more payments, such as utility bills, rent, mortgage, hire purchase agreements or loans, up from 10%;
* Almost 48% of households could not meet an unexpected expense of €1,000.
European Anti Poverty Network (EPAN) Ireland said the level of poverty was unacceptable and criticised the Government’s the four-year plan.
Paul Ginnell, policy and support worker, said: “Cutting social welfare levels, increasing the tax burden on the lowest paid and cutting essential public services can only result in greater poverty for more people.
“This will not assist in our economic recovery.”
Equality minister Pat Carey said the survey showed the impact of the economic crisis on living standards, but maintained government policy was protecting those vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion.
“Our social welfare system is an automatic stabiliser for people in economic difficulties, especially as unemployment increased from 4.8% in December 2007 to 13.1% in December 2009,” he said.
“In 2009, almost €20bn was spent on social welfare payments, benefiting over one-and-a-half million people.
“The measures required to restore fiscal stability while increasing growth and competitiveness will be painful for all sectors of society but as is clear from the Plan for National Recovery 2011 – 2014, protecting the vulnerable remains our priority.”